• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 05
Image by


What if the ugly duckling stayed ugly? And we just cared less?

What if we actually listened, instead?

He’s waiting for me by the water’s edge. It’s overcast, the heat hanging close around my neck. Sliding up under my shoulderblades, like wings.

I crunch over sunbleached grass. The park has quietened as our shadows have shortened. Children’s ice-cream screams have faded. The lake is like a dirty coin. The air is sour, a haze of barbecue smoke and overfilled bins.

I pass two little girls, grass-stained knees and bowed heads, making daisy chains in companionable silence. I wonder why, as an adult, it is so hard to make new friends.

I move slowly, swallowing a burst of shyness. It sits like a stone at the base of my throat.

It’s as if he’s holding onto all my shortcomings already.

He isn’t as ugly as I’d heard. I don’t feel the dip of revulsion others have told me about. Webbed feet scratch across cracked mud. The greasy sheen of off-white feathers under midday sun. The notorious wig, an obvious glare of yellow felt.

His bill parts. “What brings you here today?”